Rewards of Learning
Rabbi Reuven Mann - Dean, Masoret Institute


I have come across another problem. I am preparing Pirkei Avos, perek 5,
about 4 midos in talmidim.
1) grasps quickly and forgets easily
2) grasps very slowly but doesn't forget
3) grasps quickly and doesn't forget (this is a good lot)
4) grasps very slowly and forgets easily (this is a bad lot [chelek ra]).
My question is on the last one. R' Yonah points out that despite his
poor ability to grasp and retain, he persists in learning. He gets
reward for his persistence. Are we judged (is our purpose) according to
how much understanding and knowledge of God that we acquire? Or is our
purpose to devote all of our energy to the eternal? It seems like the
student who persists in studying despite his inability to gain
understanding has directed all of his energy towards pursuing the good
and eternal. It is not his "fault" that he has no binah, that's not his
chelek. So why is this a "bad chelek?" Does Hashem expect more from
him? If you maintain that he has a bad chelek compared to the ultimate
understanding possible, the closest relationship with Hashem based on
knowledge; but that can't be what Hashem demands of him. That is not his
purpose. So how can this be a bad chelek (other than the frustration he
feels at grasping slowly and not retaining)?
I was thinking that when Hashem created the world, he had a specific
purpose in mind for humanity. This purpose involves using our minds to
gain understanding, which will lead to a relationship with Him. However,
it is His will that each person be given a unique chelek and different
ability to pursue this goal. Each person's purpose is to perfect himself
insofar as he is able to with the unique abilities that Hashem endowed
him with. If he does that, he is successful. However, it is possible
that Hashem endowed him with abilities far inferior to the rest of
mankind, and compared to what mankind is able to achieve (compared to
Hashem's plan for mankind), he has a bad chelek because he will never be
able to achieve the great knowledge and understanding which is necessary
for a close relationship with Hashem.
But that's where I get stuck. Because so what that he can't achieve the
knowledge necessary for a relationship with Hashem. He is fulfilling
Hashem's will completely on his level. Is it a tragedy that a cow
doesn't have knowledge of God? At least this person is using his bechira
to direct all of his energies to the good. Where is the tragedy?
With regard to 4 middos in talmidim: There are 2 things to consider; the
objective purpose of the activity of learning and the subjective reward of one
who learns but doesn't achieve it's highest purpose.Learning is essentially
for the acquisition of the knowledge which perfects us and shows us the ways
of G-d and rechannels our energies to a love of Hashem. If the ability to
acquire knowledge is seriously compromised then one's chelek of Torah will be
limited. This is an objective reality which can't be altered. One can ask:what
is the benefit of the one who is slow to absorb and quick to forget? I believe
that R.Yonah means that there is a gain in involvement in the beauty of G-d's
Torah which has a profound effect on the soul. Also persistence in study where
the fruits come with great difficulty expresses a profound love of G-d which
may be absent when the learning is providing the joy and satisfaction
of"success" There are 2 rewards for learning; the natural perfection of the
soul which results from the activity and the Divine reward that G-d metes out
to those who faithfully follow His will. Regarding the first, ie. the natural
benefits of the objective activity of learning he has a bad chelek- he is
limited in this area in terms of how much he can partake of the knowledge of
Torah. However as you say he is fulfilling his purpose in line with the nature
that G-d gave him.In regard to the reward G-d gives to those who are his true
servants in that they absolutely live according to His will he of course does
not have a chelek ra.